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“Tucker?” Trystan looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“Yeah. You can trust him, right? The guy’s been looking out for you, hasn’t he? You should have him talk to the record label.”

Trystan thinks about it and says, “You mean I should ask him to be my agent? He’s an English teacher, Mari.”

“I know. Which means he’s underpaid and works his ass off. It also means he can read and parse stuff that makes your head spin. You could get a big name agent—I’m sure they’re all trying to sign you—but it makes sense to ask Tucker, right?” I give him a lopsided smile.

He laughs and shakes his head as I hand him my phone. “You know, most people spend their life trying to get away from their teachers.”

“Yeah, but good people are rare. He’s good people.”

“Who are you?” Trystan’s smile is huge. He teases me for another second and then dials. “Here goes nothing.”

CHAPTER 8

~TRYSTAN~

Trystan walks into the coffee house with Mari on his arm. Today has been so weird. He should be in school. Actually, he should be sitting in Tucker’s classroom right now, but here they are in this little café.

Tucker is already at a little table that’s jammed into the corner. His white shirt is rolled up to his elbows and his collar is unbuttoned. There’s a cup in his hand that gets lifted to his lips. When Tucker sets it down, he sees them, and waves them over. When they stop in front of the table, he asks, “So, it’s true then?” Tucker asks while dabbing his forehead with a napkin. The guy is covered in sweat.

Trystan pulls out a chair for Mari and then sits next to Tucker. “Yeah, it’s true.”

Tucker seems amused. There’s a smile on his lips that he’s clearly trying to hide. “Why didn’t you want to tell anyone?”

“Because of my dad. I know you know,” Trystan adds quickly.

“Actually, I didn’t know for certain, Trystan. If I did, social services would have pulled you out of there. I’m sorry.” Tucker takes a deep breath and leans back in his chair. “So, what do you need from me?”

Trystan glances at Mari. After everything they talked about, he suddenly feels shy asking. It’s Tucker, the same man who he threatened to report, but he’s also the same guy that let him nap in the school basement.

Mari speaks for him. “Trystan wants to take a deal. Several were offered, but he needs someone to negotiate things for him.”

“And you want me to do that?” Tucker’s caterpillar eyebrows crawl up his face.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Trystan, I’m not an agent. Shouldn’t you—”

Trystan cuts him off. “Maybe, but I’d like you to help me with this. You’d get the agent’s cut. The thing is, I trust you. I can tell you stuff and it won’t end up in the paper, you know? I don’t know them.”

“Trystan, there are people that would be much better at this. I can look over your contracts, but I’m not taking your money.”

Trystan smiles and taps the table between them. “And that’s exactly why I want you to do it.” Trystan tells Tucker the plan for that evening. Mari interjects once in a while, filling in anything he left out. When he finishes, he says, “And since neither of us have any place to sleep tonight—”

Tucker glances at Trystan and then Mari. “Why not? I mean, I know what happened with your father Trystan, but what’s happened to you? Why can’t you go home?” He looks at Mari with concern.

“Well, her parents neglect her most of the time and when they’re actually around, they lash into her. It’s verbal crap for the most part, but when her dad went after her today. I thought he was going to strangle her, so I, uh, kind of punched him.” Trystan realizes how bad that sounds. Now that the moment is over, it seems like an overreaction on his part, but at the time Trystan felt the need to defend Mari.

For a second he wonders how much his father messed up his perception of things. Maybe all livid parents don’t beat the shit out of their kids. Maybe they yell and that’s it, but things had already taken a turn when he grabbed Trystan. He can’t afford to second guess himself. He did what he had to and he’d do it again.

Tucker pinches the bridge of his nose and presses his eyes closed. “You punched Dr. Jennings?”

“Don’t make it sound like I’m the bad guy here—” Trystan bristles, but Tucker slaps his hand down on the table and cuts him off.

“Trystan, you’re not the bad guy, but you can’t punch people. You’re eighteen—it’s assault. We’ve already been thought this! Did you think of that before you hit him?”

“He grabbed me and then he went at Mari. I thought he was going to hurt her. I...” His voice trails off as he looks over at Mari.

She takes his hand. “Mr. Tucker, I didn’t like any of it, but Trystan didn’t start it.”

Tucker looks up at her and sighs. “What’s done is done, but you two can’t be in situations like this. It’s not safe. Mari’s a minor, for godsakes. If the police show up—”

“I know,” Trystan says quickly. “They showed up at my house the other night when things got ugly with my father. I know what happens to Mari. They drag her ass back to her father, and we all know how that goes.” Trystan swallows hard and leans back, running his hands through his hair. “I want to make sure she’s safe, Mr. Tucker. That needs to be part of the deal.”

Tucker looks at each of them and shakes his head. “I can’t do that Trystan. Social Services won’t intervene if she’s not in immediate danger. Verbal abuse is frowned upon, and he never actually touched her. When there are kids getting beat within an inch of death, they just don’t have the capacity to deal with the stuff Mari is living with. Even if I reported neglect, she’s seventeen. She can feed herself. Her parents are wealthy. Do you see where this is going?”

“I don’t want you to call social services,” Mari squeaks, looking panicked.

Trystan takes her hand, “We won’t. Besides, that’s not what we need right now.”

Mr. Tucker looks confused. “Then, what do you want me to do?”

“Make housing a provision of the contract with the record label. We both need a roof. At the very least, have them put her up somewhere until she can move into the dorm in the fall.”

Tucker blinks and does a double take. “Come again? She’s going to college in the fall?”

Mari finally speaks up. She loses the hitch in her voice and confidently tells Tucker her plans. “Yes, I applied to a little college out east. They accepted me and offered a full scholarship, but I can’t move into the dorm until August.”

Tucker’s brow furrows as he thinks. After a few moments, he points at Mari. “I can fix your problem. We can get you into the dorm now instead of at the end of the summer. I assume your parents don’t approve?”

“They don’t know.” Mari glances at her hands as she speaks, looking younger than she is. “Daddy wanted me at Harvard, pursuing something in the medical field. I don’t want that life. So I applied. I was planning on disappearing one night and not telling them a thing.”

Tucker closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he smiles at her. Tipping his head to the side, he says, “You’re a good kid with a good heart and a brilliant mind. I agree that you should move into the dorm as soon as possible, but you need to tell them. Otherwise, they’ll think you were abducted or something horrible. I assume that your application for early graduation was submitted?” She nods. “Good, then I’ll make sure it goes through. As for you,” Tucker glances at Trystan while his index finger traces the rim of his coffee mug, “I’ll talk to the record labels for you and tell them what you want. We can go from there. You have a lot of potential, Scott. I want to see you succeed more than anyone, so promise me that you won’t mess it up.”

Trystan laughs and folds his arms over his chest. “What makes you think that I want to mess it up?”

“There’s a lot of pressure with this life, Trystan. People will always be looking at you, waiting for you to fall apart. Have you noticed your peers—the other young actors and singers who flamed out? You get a lot by taking this path, but you’re giving up a lot, too. I know how much you value privacy and that’ll be gone. You’ll belong to the world. There won’t be a quiet moment for weeks on end. Do you think you can handle that life? Because it’s so damn easy to reach for something to take the edge off and before you know it, you’re constantly drunk or high.”

Trystan’s shoulders tense as he says it. “I don’t drink or do drugs. I’ll never drink anything. Do you seriously think that I’d touch that shit after living with my father? He tried to—“ Words won’t come. They stick in his throat like barbs. “If she hadn’t walked in—” He sucks in air, his eyes too wide, and heart beating too fast.

Tucker bumps Trystan’s hand and cuts him off. “I don’t think you’ll do it on purpose, Trystan, but yeah—at some point you’re going to need a way to deal with things. You need to know what you’re going to do before it sneaks up on you. Unless a person intentionally changes what they’re doing, children will become their parents. Which means you’ll deal with stress the same way your father did. I know you’re saying you won’t now, but unless you know what you’ll do, it’s inevitable. So do us both a favor and decide how to handle your life before you get to that point.”

Tucker’s words cut through Trystan and pierce his heart. Lots of guys become their father. Trystan swore up and down that he’d never be like his old man, but there’s nothing stopping it from occurring. Tucker is the first person to even say that it didn’t have to happen, and the way to do that seems so simple. Decide not to drink, decide now what he’ll do when life is too hard, and Trystan can get anything he wants to drown his stress. Trystan hates that his father is a part of him. He hates how much the man influenced his life, but Tucker is right.

“I will.” The air is thick with things yet to come. There’s a slush pile filled with shit that he has to trek through before getting to the other side. If Tucker wasn’t here, he wouldn’t know what to do.

Trystan smiles awkwardly at the guy. “Hey, I suck at saying things like this, but it needs to be said. Thank you. Thank you for looking out for me and dealing with my shit. I pretty much blackmailed you this year and you just rolled with it. You left the school in the middle of the day to talk to us, and you always do stuff like that. You’ve done more than I could ever thank you for. I know a good guy when I see one, and I hope I can make you proud. If I can be half the man you are, that’ll be amazing.”

Mari is smiling at Trystan, and leans in close as he speaks. She knows how hard it is for him to say things like this. It means Trystan’s wrong, that someone did care about him all this time, and that he wasn’t alone. Trystan couldn’t see it before, but it’s crystal clear now. It’s funny how easy it is to see after the fact.

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